Is Autism Being Over-Diagnosed in Children?

Is autism spectrum disorder (ASD) being over-diagnosed, or the statistics just off? The success rate of early intervention treatment may be affecting what studies are concluding.

Federal studies show a rise in autism diagnosis rates in children, leading many to conclude that doctors are over-diagnosing the disorder. However, children who receive early treatment for autism in Little Rock and across the country can potentially reverse their symptoms and grow successfully into adulthood. So, what’s the truth behind the data?

How Often Is Autism Diagnosed?

Researchers estimate that as many as 10% of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) do not meet the criteria. The study analyzed results from the 2011 Survey of Pathways to Diagnosis and Service, which involved approximately 1,600 children between 6 and 17 years of age who had received an autism diagnosis. The researchers found that about 13% of diagnosed children later fell off the spectrum. Many parents reported that changes in diagnostic criteria and other advances in research caused their children to shed their diagnosis.

What Causes High Autism Diagnosis Rates?

While researchers are unclear on why autism diagnosis rates have risen in the past few years, they have identified several potential causes of over-diagnosis. Firstly, because autism is a highly complex and subjective disorder, screening and evaluation often produce inaccurate results. One clinic may issue a positive diagnosis, while another may tell parents their child is developing normally. Due to high variation in communication skills among infants, children who cannot articulate their thoughts and feelings as well as their peers are often prematurely placed on the spectrum.

Several symptoms of autism also overlap with those of epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other intellectual/developmental disabilities. In other cases, parents reported that clinicians issued a diagnosis simply to allow their children easier access to treatment. Recently, many children were moved from one of these categories to autism, which explains the rise as a change in definition rather than an emergence of new cases.

The Role of Early Intervention

Early intervention programs may explain why many children diagnosed with autism step off the spectrum after a few years. In fact, infants between 7 and 15 months old can overcome or significantly reduce symptoms of autism with just 12 weeks of early intervention therapy, according to a University of California Davis study. The infants who participated in the study showed significant improvements in developmental and communicative skills by age one, and their learning and general function abilities grew by age three.

Parents often believe that infants are too young to display symptoms of autism, resulting in many children receiving an autism diagnosis between the ages of three and four. Because early intervention programs are designed for infants, it is crucial for parents to evaluate their children as soon as possible.

Early Intervention Treatment for Autism in Little Rock

Toddlers and preschool children diagnosed with autism can benefit from tailored early intervention treatment. Behavioral scientists have developed several models for treatment that can be adjusted for your child’s specific needs. Key features of an effective treatment plan include:

  • Clearly defined goals and objectives with regular evaluations and adjustments.
  • Therapeutic activities designed to address language, learning, play, motor, and social skills.
  • Treatment led by highly qualified and experienced therapists and educators.
  • Peer interaction and group activities.
  • Parental involvement in decision-making and treatment modalities.
  • A network of support that includes professionals well versed in all focus areas of the program.

Integrity Inc. provides developmental day care and early intervention therapy for children diagnosed with autism. Treatment models focus on providing a network of support and encouraging personal achievement through personalized case management. To review your child’s autism diagnosis or for information about programs tailored treatment for autism in Little Rock, contact Integrity, Inc. today at 501-406-0442.

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